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Dress Code

The New Formal

Whether your office is creative or corporate, co-working or corner, here’s how to dress to impress

After an August of automated Out Of Office email responses, September generally heralds a back-to-school mentality. Sartorially speaking, there’s also an associated change of gear. In the US, Labor Day (the first Monday in September) marks an end to casual summer dressing. What that means depends on the kind of office you work in.

Wherever you work and whatever the dress code, there’s a lot to be said for making an effort. Whether consciously or subconsciously, clients will appreciate it, colleagues will respect it, bosses will notice it. What you wear on a daily basis also affects your mindset. If you look good, you feel good and you’ll likely perform better.

To help you stand out for the right reasons, our style editors have put together five looks for five different kinds of office, which run the gamut from casual to formal.


The word “corporate” is often freighted with negative connotations. It suggests a uniform stiffness, the kind of environment where expressing your individual style might be frowned upon. So this look is all about showing some personal flair without overdoing it. The rollneck and the penny loafers may push the (manila) envelope for such an office, but not too far. The colour palette – burgundy, charcoal grey, burnished brown, textured black – is quite safe, but with a luxe feel.

It is generally better not to mix black and brown leathers; they often clash. However, we’re deliberately bending that rule, taking our cue from Mr Tomas Maier, creative director at Bottega Veneta, who has woven three shades of leather – black, dark brown and tan – into this dégradé intrecciato card holder. (Quick glossary of terms revision: dégradé means gradual gradations of colour. Intrecciato is the term used to describe the criss-cross weaving of leather that is Bottega Veneta’s signature.) This gives us licence to pair dark brown Edward Green penny loafers with a black intrecciato leather Bottega Veneta briefcase. Such a combination might be a no-no for some purists, but as MR PORTER Style Director Mr Olie Arnold says, “Not all brown leathers clash with black leather, and it depends on the rest of the outfit. In this case, the grey and burgundy help offset this.”

While the outfit itself is fairly muted, the accessories speak volumes. You’ll get a lot of value from the co-ordinating but not directly matching briefcase and wallet, and the brushed gold Thom Browne card holder is an impressive touch when swapping business cards.

If you’re the boss or senior management – part of the C suite with the word chief in your job title and your own office – you need to dress the part. A double-breasted suit will help you look like you mean business. Unstructured tailoring is always going to be more versatile, but sometimes a man just needs to look like he’s in charge. And a power suit – with a double-breasted jacket, wide peak lapels, well-constructed shoulder and fully canvassed chest – gives you a commanding V-shaped silhouette. That doesn’t mean looking like a fat cat necessarily. This DB from MR PORTER’s in-house tailoring line Kingsman is cut particularly slim for a contemporary fit.

Grey Prince of Wales check is never out of style, but it’s set to be a big trend for autumn, according to Mr Arnold. With such a statement pattern, the rest of your look can be more toned down. Here we’ve chosen to maintain the formality with a crisp white Charvet shirt and dark textured silk Drake’s tie. The tie is navy blue, which helps to bring out the subtle blue stripe in the suit’s check, as does the petrol blue leather of the rubber-soled John Lobb monk-strap shoes, a MR PORTER exclusive.

The clean lines of your suit will be interrupted if you put anything in your pockets, so don’t. A backpack wouldn’t sit right with a suit like this and would damage the shoulder construction. Carry a smart leather bag instead, such as this elegant black cross-grain leather briefcase from Prada.

In an office where a suit and tie are expected, you will see wall-to-wall navy and grey tailoring. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But you can change it up with some alternative shades within the parameters of professional respectability.

This olive-green patch pocket suit from Joseph is exclusive to MR PORTER. The jacket and trousers could easily be worn separately, which means you’ll be able to get plenty of wear out of them. Both halves would combine especially well with navy blue. This suit is made from Seaton wool, which has some texture to it and doesn’t crease easily.

The olive green is echoed in the woven silk tie from Lanvin, which, in turn, works well with the fine-stripe shirt from Canali. The lustrous burgundy hue of the cordovan leather Derbies from Brunello Cucinelli serves to bring out the green of the suit, as does the honeyed tortoiseshell of the Bottega Veneta glasses and the tan leather strap of the Shinola watch. The shoes have a Goodyear-welted durable Vibram rubber sole, which makes them robust and practical for the commute, especially in unforgiving weather

For those who work in a particularly creative environment where there is no strict dress code, anything goes, particularly for confident, fashion-forward dressers. But it’s interesting how many creatives stick to just one colour – the cliché is all black every day. This look changes things up a little. “It is a tongue-in-cheek take on a suit,” says Mr Arnold. It’s actually an elevated tracksuit. The midnight-blue wool and mohair Valentino trousers look like suit trousers front on, until you see the thick white stripes down the outer seams. They are paired with a co-ordinating Valentino zip-up jacket, worn over a ribbed sweater with burgundy cableknit detailing that marries well with the jacket’s coloured collar.

“There are several graphic elements going on here, but the unifying dark blue theme pulls them all together,” says Mr Arnold. These black leather Prada shoes add a level of workplace formality to the ensemble, but the fringed kiltie detail keeps it creative. The co-ordinating black leather and canvas Maison Margiela backpack completes the look. “A lot of people are unsure about combining blue with black, but usually navy blue and black go together just fine, so long as it looks deliberate, as it does in this instance,” says Mr Arnold.

Judging by the widespread colonisation of empty warehouse space by companies such as WeWork in the last couple of years, the freelance economy is booming. Co-working office spaces are by definition easy-come, easy-go places and your attire should reflect that: cool, casual and comfortable. But not too comfortable. This is a step up from tapping away at your kitchen table in your boxer shorts. All the brands featured here – Margaret Howell, Acne Studios, Ami, Saturdays NYC, Folk, WANT Les Essentiels – are like-minded contemporaries that work well together.

Given the networking/shameless flirting that goes on around the communal coffee machine, you should dress with versatility in mind. You might suddenly meet someone important. Think about regularly incorporating a pop of colour to help distinguish you in a sea of semi-familiar faces. The chore jacket and cotton twill trousers that are slightly cropped and wider of leg give the feel of elevated workwear. Try not to fall into the predictable jeans and T-shirt default. A collared shirt is always a good idea. And swap canvas sneakers for smart leather ones.

The leather-trimmed canvas backpack is perfect for stashing your laptop and other mobile desk essentials (headphones, chargers, notebook and pen), so you can easily hop on and off public transport or a bike as your diary dictates. 

Work Essentials

  • Ystudio Walnut, Brass and Copper Writing Set

  • Thom Browne Small Striped Pebble-Grain Leather Notebook

  • Smythson Grosvenor Full-Grain Leather Pen Pot

  • Bottega Veneta Round-Frame Tortoiseshell Acetate and Gunmetal-Tone Optical Glasses

  • Ermenegildo Zegna Pelle Tessuta Leather Briefcase

  • IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN Portofino Hand-Wound Eight Days 45mm Stainless Steel and Alligator Watch